A few months ago, a pickup truck that I’d never seen before starting parking in the garage below my apartment building. I only noticed it because it bore a “Blue Lives Matter” sticker on the back window. It almost certainly belongs to the scrawny white boy who had recently moved in–the same one who wears a t-shirt with the Punisher skull printed on the front and a baseball cap with the Thin Blue Line stitched on the front. All things considered, it was hard for me not to notice him.
I see this scrawny white boy a few times a week, usually in brief glimpses as we pass by each other in the courtyard of the apartments or on the sidewalk outside. Every time I see him, I cautiously size him up. He is small and skinny and carries himself like many other insecure young men–hands in pockets, eyes pointed downward, shoulders hunched to make his small frame even smaller.
He lives near the back of the building and always leaves the light by his door turned on, regardless of time of day. He appears to have at least a few friends, who will pop in and out of these tiny apartments throughout the week. At least one of the people he associates with was previously outed as an outright neo-Nazi–I know this because I wrote an article about him a few years back.
We do not know each other, and we’ve never spoken a word to each other, but he often looks sideways at me, too. It seems clear, to me at least, that we’re well aware of our respective affiliations.
I do not know where this young man works or how he spends his day, but his truck rumbles in and out of the garage more than once per day. He’s probably at least curious about right-wing organizing and activity, but I have no way of proving this. I would surely recognize him or his truck out in the field, but I cannot say that I’ve seen him out on the streets. To date, I’ve only ever seen him in my building.
So what am I to do with this information? How do I, a person who adheres to antifascist beliefs, deal with a possible fascist or fascist sympathizer who lives mere feet from my front door? Should things in my life take a turn for the dramatic, can I expect a neighbor–someone who also forks over cash to a landlord that lives in a far-away state–to become my tormentor, too?
On the one hand, I could make a point to keep an eye on his apartment–his front door is easily visible from my window–and make note of the people who come and go, slowly building a dossier of faces, attaching them to names, and drawing connections between the individual nodes of Lane County’s rapidly-growing far-right network.
My neighbor may not be an outspoken, highly visible fascist, but there are very few people who willingly sport Thin Blue Line and Punisher symbolism on their clothing and cars without holding at least a little bit of sympathy for the far-right’s actions. It is at least somewhat likely that there are only a few degrees of separation between my neighbor and the far-right activists that I’ve been monitoring for months, if not years.
But on the other I could simply move on with my life and not spend time and energy worrying about a young man I have never spoken to or otherwise acquainted myself with. He’s never bothered me, and I’ve never seen commit acts of hatred in public or private.
There’s no solid proof that my neighbor is an actual, avowed, Roman-saluting fascist, just circumstantial evidence and my own informed opinion. It’s entirely possible that my neighbor is simply a misguided young man who was spoon-fed a little too much copaganda by television.
So what do I do?
I often find myself wondering whether there’s a correlation between how one treats individuals and how they approach the big, abstract systems that govern our lives. The easy thought is that they correlate closely–that those who treat people with kindness and understanding might view these systems with a similarly optimistic eye. Conversely, those that give no quarter to individuals might be expected to do the same when it comes to challenging and dismantling the superstructures underpinning society.
But I’ve come to believe that the opposite is true. Those that have the greatest compassion for individuals are the most ruthless dismantlers of all. It takes real kindness and generosity to see even the worst people among as victims in this grand social scam we’re born into. It takes guts to view the oppressor as equally exploited within a system that gives them little freedom to choose a different path through life. A fascist is not born a fascist, they are molded by the pressures inherent in the politics of resentment and hopelessness.
The fascist, as an individual, engenders more pity than fear from me, though their ideology is fearful. I see them less as threatening thugs and more like foolish, lost souls that have had the joy and beauty of life unfairly ripped away from them. They are not touched by love, and that is more than enough to turn them into sorry creatures.
This is not to say that I want to build bridges or find common ground with the fascists in the hopes that they might turn their backs on their dreadful ideas. But I am not so cynical and jaded that I don’t feel pity for the young people who find themselves twisted into gnarled, nasty versions of themselves by the dark allure of American fascism. They did not have to end up like they did.
Every time I see that neighbor of mine, sulking through the courtyard with a comic book logo draped across his face and chest, I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry because no one could reach him with anything but lies designed to make him hateful and spiteful. I feel sorry because he clearly feels like the only way to seize control of his life is to align himself with the identity of oppression, that he might find purpose by slavishly devoting himself to the worship of power and order at the cost of his very humanity.
And every time I walk down to the garage to shove a potato in the tailpipe of this young fascist’s truck, I feel just a little bit sorry for him.